Charlotte Boitiaux, an InfoMigrants journalist, spent ten days on board the Aquarius, observing the search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean.
I didn’t understand the full tragedy of the migration crisis until I saw those overcrowded wooden boats lost in the immensity of the sea.
was it like to spend ten days on board the Aquarius?
It was extremely difficult, both emotionally and physically.
When you are on a boat and the weather gets bad, you don’t feel well. We encountered rough water and there were waves and high winds. I had headaches and was often nauseous. I also kept losing my balance!
Seeing a rescue will haunt me - I don’t think anyone could witness something like that without being affected. We often hear about the situation in the Mediterranean, but I didn’t understand the full tragedy of the migration crisis until I saw with my own eyes a body floating in the water and the overcrowded wooden boats lost in the immensity of the sea.
What was the hardest part for you?
Actually, landing on the Sicilian coast was a more difficult experience for me than the actual rescue. When the Aquarius lands on Italian soil, the migrants on board are immediately handed over to immigration services. I had really bonded with the people rescued by the Aquarius. I had spent two full days with them - listening to their stories, hearing about their hopes for a better life in Europe and their dreams for the future. It was really hard to say goodbye, especially because I felt like I hadn’t told them the whole truth. Many of them thought that the hardest part of their journey was now behind them. But arriving in Europe brings a whole new set of challenges. I know, for example, that many of their asylum claims will end up being rejected and they will be repatriated.
What was it like to embed with a humanitarian vessel?
Up until the rescue, I was busy conducting interviews and working on portraits of the team manning the boat. But when we reached the boats in distress, it was incredibly hard to maintain the distance that we are supposed to have as journalists. There were only about 30 aid workers on the boat and they had to take care of 200 people in distress. Sometimes, that number is much higher - 400, 500 or 600. I quickly realized that they needed any help they could get. So I took off my journalist’s cap for a moment and did what I could to assist them.
What were your strongest impressions from this experience?
I know that the mission of aid workers is to save lives. But I was incredibly impressed by their dedication. The teams on board the Aquarius make immense personal and professional sacrifices. They put their jobs and lives on hold and leave their families and friends for months. I have enormous respect for them.
Interview: Leslie Carretero
Translation: Avi Davis